I don’t normally watch church on television. Weekends find us usually watching whatever sports may be on.
Last weekend though as I was flipping around looking for soccer (futbal, if you prefer), I saw a local preacher talking and decided to watch for a minute. Like I said, I don’t normally watch church on tv, but this was a little different; the preacher on tv was female. And not only was she female, but she was an African-American female.
Big whoop, Christy, right? Where have you been? The 1950′s?
No, it’s not that. See, I live in a “small” town; it’s conservative, it’s stuffy, it’s the type of town kids can’t wait to leave. It’s not a young town–the majority of people who live here are old–and it’s definitely not progressive.
(I feel compelled to say that we only moved here to take care of my husband’s mother, who, yep, was old. It was the right thing to do at the time. Of course that took me away from my own mother who was not so old and who was dying of cancer. But that’s another topic for another day, maybe. Or maybe not, since there is nothing I can do about that now. And I really am trying to embrace this whole “Letting Go” thing I took on for my 40th birthday. I guess I felt compelled because I don’t want you to think I’m old or stuffy or conservative or stuck in a small town, though I may be two of those things now. But Let it Go already, Christy, move on . . . )
Okay, so anyway, I remember when the church announced it was hiring a female to come in to minister. “Oh my goodness! They’re doing what? Oh my, oh my, oh my!” You could hear the whispers all around town.
When news got out that the preacher was also black? That was just the cherry on top. Nobody really said too much about that, but you could feel it in their tone. “Did you hear about the new preacher they hired? Did you know she’s . . . fe-male?” With eyebrows raised and layers of emphasis on the “fe-”, as if you could lump everything that is non-white-male within the confines of raised eyebrows and two little letters.
But you know what? Everyone loves her. She’s young, vibrant, relevant, funny and straight-shooting. She’s even made me consider going to church because of how well she blends real-life lessons into religion. I feel like I could even overlook the whole God thing and instead consider it a self-help course.
The first time I saw her on tv was Christmas Eve. I decided to watch because I had heard the gossip and whispers when I went in town to “The Wal-Mart” and I was curious to hear what she had to say. (Okay, maybe I was curious how others were reacting to her.) Something happened as I watched though — I was glued to the tv. She was talking to my heart, and I couldn’t not listen.
That night she was talking about “Letting Go.” Of anger, of resentment, of anything holding you back from living the life you want to live. But it’s not just letting go, she said, it’s embracing and doing the things you need to do (not the same as want to do) to get you to that life you want to live.
She shared a story of letting go of her own anger.
I had a lot of unresolved anger in my heart then, so I listened raptly as she talked about going to the shopping mall, joining the throngs of other last-minute shoppers, and circling (and circling and circling) the parking lot looking for a spot. When she finally found one, another car swooped in like a snake and stole it away from her. She shared how her heart filled with rage and her mouth filled with profanity and she wanted to get out and give THAT OTHER PERSON a piece of her mind.
Her anger grew and grew until she felt like a smoldering volcano. This anger made her think about all the other things that had made her angry, so not only was she upset at this other driver, she was now angry at her mom, her fifth grade teacher, her first husband, and the person who had 30 items in the “10 item or less lane” at “The Wal-Mart.”
Because anger loves to incite anger, her anger spoke to my anger. And there we were, two little angry volcanoes.
But she knew that she had to let this anger go. It wasn’t helping. Instead, it was making her miserable.
So she chilled out, did her shopping, and as she was leaving the mall, she saw a lady in the parking lot having car trouble. It was dark by then and she was late for an appointment. “I don’t have time for this tonight! I am late, late, late. I know someone else will help that woman,” she thought.
So she drove away. And at the red light leading out of the mall, she realized every other person was probably saying the same things to themselves. Even though she was late and even though she really didn’t want to, she turned around at the red light to go help.
She went on to talk about compassion and some of the hardships she had encountered in life, even some of the challenges she faced moving to this small town. Honestly, I don’t remember it all, but I remember how I felt. I remember thinking this lady gets it.
People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Dr. Maya Angelou
So the other day when I was looking for futbal and happened to see her on tv, I stopped flipping, and I watched.
This time she was talking about forgiveness. And again, it was like she was talking directly to me. See, I’ve been harboring a resentment and waiting for an apology from a friend for something that happened years ago. My friend offered to apologize, but she wanted to apologize on her terms. Screw your terms, I thought, I’m the one hurt, you should apologize just the way I asked. It made me angry (which in turn, opened up those anger flood gates, just like the preacher in the parking lot, and there I was again, a little angry volcano). Why can’t she just do what I want her to do?! Now she needs to apologize for this too!
But this preacher . . . she talked about forgiving others, get this, even if they don’t apologize. Not only that, but even if they’re not sorry. What?! Blasphemy! I don’t want to forgive, I want to be angry. I’m justified here. Yeah, so what? In the notorious words of Dr. Phil, “And how’s that workin’ for you?”
Then she held up a book and compared it to a little annoyance. She handed the book over to someone in the congregation, and said, “Hold this out at arm’s length. Don’t let go.”
Have you ever tried this? It starts out easy. It’s just a little book, it barely weighs anything. “Piece of cake, right?” she asked.
But after a while, that little book starts feeling like War and Peace. Soon your hand starts aching. And then your arm starts shaking. And then you start sweating, and pains start traveling to your back. Then your entire body starts trembling until you can’t stand it any more. You have to drop the book.
What starts out like a little tiny annoyance will build and build and poison every inch of your body . . . if you aren’t willing to let it go.
Like most, I’ve heard the quote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” (It’s a biggie in recovery meetings.) But I don’t think the meaning really sunk in until I saw that poor little man holding out that book with his arm shaking, ego and stubborn-pride being the only things keeping it up. And for what? Why do we let ourselves suffer so much? The person we’re angry at isn’t suffering. They’re probably not even thinking about us!
You don’t forgive to let the other person off the hook. You forgive to let yourself off the hook. Drop the book already. Forgive, move on. Let. It. Go.
While forgiveness will always be a hot button for me, I can accept that some things are in the past. They can’t be changed. So I can either continue to let myself suffer as I hold up this book that is now the size of an entire Encyclopedia series, or I can drop the book and move on, for my own health and sanity.
Forgiveness. Acceptance. Letting go. Self-care. I can call it whatever I need to call it, I just need to do it. Maybe next time I’ll be smart enough to not pick up the book in the first place.
To close, let me tell you a quick story about me and my mom:
Mom and I were on vacation a couple of years before she got sick. We were relaxing in our hotel room flipping through the channels on tv. Guess what we land upon? Church. The preacher was screaming and jumping up and down, he was sweaty and red-faced, and we were absolutely mesmerized.
“Jesus is coming!” he shouted. “Are you ready?! What are you doing?! What are you doing right now? You’re at home, watching The TV! Jesus is coming but you’re gonna miss Him because you’re at home watching tv! When your friends ask you, “Hey did you see Jesus? He was just here.” you’re gonna have to say, “Nope, I was at home . . . watching The TV.”
It became one of those things Mom and I would laugh about, especially after she got sick.
I’d call her on the phone, “Hey Mom, whatcha doin’?”
“Not much, Christy, just watching tv.”
“Just watching tv?! Jesus is coming back, and you’re going to miss Him, Mom, because you’re at home watching The TV!”
And then we would laugh and remember better days. Even now, typing this, I have to laugh. My god wouldn’t care if I was watching tv. My god could preempt any tv show he or she wanted in order to get a message to me.
And now I have to smile and shake my head, because I just realized maybe my god has been preempting shows getting messages to me:
- Let go of anger.
- Help others, even when you don’t want to.
- Accept apologies, even those you don’t receive.
- Drop the book.
- If you’re flipping channels, don’t be afraid to watch a little church. Sometimes that’s how important messages get to you.
And, sometimes, you can change your life at a red light. (Jonny Lang as preacher? Now there’s a church I’d never miss.)
A chance to breathe
While sitting at a red light
You look around
reflecting on your life…
“Red Light” from Jonny Lang’s album Long Time Coming
How about you? Ever watch church on tv? How do you let go of anger? Still waiting for someone to apologize to you? Why/why not?
* A special thank you to Michelle (MamaMick) for inviting me to buzz around her newest personal writing blog The Hidden Hummingbird Diaries. I’ll be posting poetry and playing with new creative projects as my alter-ego Christina’s Words. Come say hi and check out my first two pieces “Words, Unread” and “The Secret: A Golden Shovel Poetry Challenge.”